Responsibility Navigator – Why, what, how?
Research and innovation activities need to become more responsive to societal challenges and concerns. The Responsibility Navigator, developed in the Res-AGorA project, supports decision-makers to govern such activities towards more conscious responsibility. What is considered “responsible” will always be defined differently by different actor groups in research, innovation, and society – the Responsibility Navigator is designed to facilitate related debate, negotiation and learning in a constructive and productive way. The Responsibility Navigator supports the identification, development and implementation of measures and procedures that can transform research and innovation in such a way that responsibility becomes an institutionalised ambition.
Research and innovation (R&I) activities and outputs are subject to increasing public and political scrutiny. In response, R&I organisations and actors are making efforts, or are being asked to make efforts to shape their activities and performance in ways that are socially desirable and ethically acceptable. Major actors such as the European Commission have characterised this ambition as ‘Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)’. The demand for responsible action in R&I has evolved since the 19th century. Originally, the main aim was to prevent fault and to minimize risk. More recent- ly, requests for responsibility have also included precaution and responsive attitudes of researchers and innovators. In 2015, the European Commission stated that “Responsible research and innovation is an approach that anticipates and assesses potential implications and societal expectations with regard to re- search and innovation, with the aim to foster the design of inclusive and sustainable research and innovation.” Negotiations and re-definitions of responsibility in R&I will continue in the future and further evolve. The Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator is designed to facilitate the related debate, negotiation and learning in a constructive and productive way.
What is desirable and acceptable is in fact highly subjective. At the same time, stakeholders expect researchers and innovators to perform in ways (and/or obtain results) that are based on commonly agreed definitions and criteria of what responsible research and innovation is, and what it is not. We propose to achieve this by following a set of principles and requirements, in other words, by applying an orientating framework to enable ‘navigation’ towards learning and institutional transformation. We call this the Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator, and expect that, by adopting and adapting it, R&I performed in Europe will become more effectively aligned with societal needs and concerns.
The Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator is directed at several target groups who may play one or several of the following roles:
a) those who lead R&I organisations and procedures towards more responsiveness and accountability,
b) those setting priorities, defining policies, and developing evaluation and assessment tools, and
c) those who mediate between different levels of the innovation system by bringing together different actors and different interests as well as de- fining the practical implementation of governance instruments.
These ‘change agents’ are motivated and able to work as ‘institutional entrepreneurs’, seeking to lead the R&I performed in Europe in the direction of more responsiveness. They typically work at research funding organisations, are on the boards of universities or companies, or in professional organisations.
The Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator offers all of those actors support and guidance for reflecting on and intervening in decision making and negotiation processes to fund and orientate R&I activities, whereby these processes can be located within or between organisations. The Navigator supports all those actors in organisations who seek to take and influence those decisions in a broadly informed and reflexive manner, taking into account the views and preferences of actors affected by their decision and with a view towards the societal desirability and
acceptability. Thus, it shall facilitate ex- change about the nature of responsibility in any given situation, and for the implementation of appropriate instruments and governance arrangements.
Moreover, building on the collective nature of responsibility-oriented governance and the challenges therein, the Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator will also inspire institutional actors such as intergovernmental organisations, research performers, expert bodies and advocacy groups, particularly those operating at the analytical, strategic or procedural levels, and responsible for guidance, programming or performance of activities related to R&I.
The framework can be used by actors facing dilemmas and complex situations impeding the governance of responsible research and innovation, and by actors wanting to reflect strategically on their own position as well as that of others in navigating R&I towards higher levels of responsible action. Since these actors have different roles and different needs, they will have to make choices about whether and how to tailor the Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator to specific contexts.
The Responsibility Navigator is a result of the collective work of the Res-AGorA project team (2013–2016). The project built on existing ideas and models associated with R&I governance in different contexts. It analysed existing de facto responsibility-related governance arrangements, including activities such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) schemes, societal mission-oriented re- search funding practices, citizen science initiatives, ethical reviews and safety regulations, technology assessments, etc., and conducted a range of structured conversations and workshops with rel- evant stakeholders.
The Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator is conceived as a ‘thinking tool’, not only intended to make individuals, organisations and institutional systems more responsive towards societal needs and preferences, but also to make existing and new governance instruments and arrangements robust, and to allow, encourage and process contestation, learning, and experimentation. Ultimately, this will facilitate institutional transformation at a systemic level, allowing RRI to emerge in a constructive, bottom-up process. The key to the Res-AGorA Responsibility Navigator lies in the reflexive, self-organised and collective nature of responsible research and in- novation, where governance dynamics are shaped by specific instruments and arrangements, and where the design and operation of all instruments (even the formulation and operation of hard law) are not a given, but are actively constructed through processes of problem framing (appraisal), coordination and negotiation. In this context, what is judged responsible is part of these interactions, where the responsibility-related governance takes place in sense- and decision-making processes in a collective way.
However, it is important to keep in mind that, if the proposed framework is to make a difference, the resulting actor strategies must aim for effectively transforming present day practices of R&I towards ‘responsibilisation’, i.e. a process by which the involved actors internalise the issues of concern, enabled by appropriate organisational conditions and governance mechanisms. Given that there will always be multiple responsibility-related goals (from safety and sustainability to inclusiveness and responsiveness), as well as different instruments to promote them (from professional training and education, design principles, stakeholder and public dialogue to regulation by voluntary codes as well as hard law), the Responsibility Navigator aims to facilitate strategic reflection and continuous formative evaluations, to understand how instruments interact and play out at different levels and contexts, and to what extent goals are ultimately achieved.
We claim that these processes involve effective transformation towards a set of articulated normative goals embedding values into practices and processes, and orienting action towards those goals. We call this the ‘deep institutionalisation’ of responsible research and innovation, which, in practice, represents a process of cultural change.